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Dixon ready for first sectional in 28 seasons

Dixon's Isaiah Roby makes a pass during Friday's 3A LaSalle-Peru Regional championship game against Mendota. The Dukes will face Morton on Wednesday in a semifinal of the 3A Bradley Sectional.
Dixon's Isaiah Roby makes a pass during Friday's 3A LaSalle-Peru Regional championship game against Mendota. The Dukes will face Morton on Wednesday in a semifinal of the 3A Bradley Sectional.

Inspiration struck Jason Mead as he watched ESPN's SportsCenter recently. Watching a scene from the Wichita State locker room, the third-year Dixon boys basketball coach heard Shockers coach Gregg Marshall ask his team a questions which resonated with Mead.

After finishing off a 31-0 regular season – the best in Division I history – Marshall asked his Shockers if they were satisfied.

"The obvious answer he wanted was no," Mead said, "and I stole the question to ask my team before regionals."

The 2013-14 Dukes have accomplished things no other Dixon boys team has in the past 2 decades. Twenty-three wins, just the third 20-win season in program history, and first since 1969. A regional championship, the first since 1986 – when Mead was 1 year old.

But the Dukes, who gave Mead the same answer as the Shockers gave Marshall, hope they're not done yet.

"We're not satisfied yet," junior Cal Jarrett said. "We're really happy about the 20 wins and the regional title, but I don't think it will be hard getting this team to focus and get ready for the next game."

Mead expects no less from this team, and did the same thing himself. While the players spent some time Saturday celebrating the first regional title in 28 seasons, Mead was poring over game film of the Morton Potters, the Dukes' semifinal opponent at the 3A Peoria Sectional on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Renaissance Coliseum.

The Potters (16-14) pulled a pair of upsets as the No. 4 seed at the Peoria Manual Regional, knocking off top-seeded Limestone 72-57 in the semifinals before taking out second-seeded Manual 44-43 in overtime in the championship.

"They can play whatever style they need to in order to win against whoever they're playing," Mead said. "They're very disciplined on offense, can play up-tempo or slow things down, and they run man or zone defense depending on which they think gives them the best chance in a particular game. It means we have to prepare for a variety of different looks, and it causes me a little concern.

"But to say they're unbeatable is wrong. If we play well, we'll play on Friday; if we don't, we'll be turning in our uniforms while looking back and thinking, 'Wow, that was pretty fun.'"

Morton is led by the "dangerous" 6-foot-4 triple-threat senior Cory Dullard, who can shoot from the perimeter and finish near the rim, while also having the ability to attack with a strong mid-range game and good movement without the basketball.

The Potters also have balance behind Dullard. Six-foot-6 senior Ian Saathoff can extend his game from the post out to 15 feet, and guards Jared Liddle (5-11 junior) and Jake Morsch (5-10 senior) provide a lift as shooters.

But Mead believes that if the Dukes play their standard solid defense, have their usual balance on offense, and hit the boards hard like they have all season, success will follow.

"I think we match up relatively well against them," Mead said, "and I don't think these kids think there's any team it's impossible for them to beat. They're not cocky or arrogant – after the last 2 years, there's no way they're going to earn that right – but they have a solid mindset, they have confidence and believe in themselves, and they're focused on what's in front of them."

His team's mentality is what impresses Mead the most. Instead of being intimidated by the big stage that lay ahead, the Dukes are buckling down and working even harder.

"We're not going to panic," junior point guard Laron Carr said. "We have some momentum and feel good going into the next round, and we'll get used to whatever style we have to play and adjust once the game gets going.

"If we stay calm, just play with confidence, hopefully we can handle what they throw at us."

Jarrett extols the mental strength of his squad, and believes the things the Dukes have already accomplished this year gives them the fire to keep things rolling. He says he and his teammates are looking forward to playing on the bigger stage.

"You never know what can happen until you're out there playing the game," he said. "We're going to be ready to go, prepare to win just like we always do, and give it our best shot.

"Two years ago, if you would have told everybody that we'd win 20 games and a regional championship, no one would have believed it. If we can do that, why can't we keep winning at sectional? I mean, really, why not?"

Class 3A Peoria Sectional semifinal

Dixon (23-6) vs. Morton (16-14)

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday'

Where: Renaissance Coliseum, Peoria

FYI: Dixon comes in off its first regional title since 1986, and has 20+ wins for just the third time in program history. … Morton won the Peoria Manual Regional as the No. 4 seed, upsetting top-seeded Limestone in the semifinals & second-seeded Manual in OT in the title game.

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